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Big & Little Beggar Lake

Until a short time ago I, like many, had never heard of Sites or even what or where Sites was. A little research indicates that Sites is in Colusa County, California and was established in 1887 and was named for John Sites. A post office was established the same year and the zipcode is 95979. The post office was closed in 1968. Sites is located in a valley west of Maxwell in the Sacramento Valley. Recently Sites began to appear in newspapers, periodicals and other forms of communication. Articles and discussion about Sites were always associated with water. Being in the fourth year of the drought, water is on everyone's mind. Water is something we are short of on the northcoast.

In the 1950s I remember a valley in inland Mendocino County that was also associated with water. Coyote Valley was a serene piece of land occupied by hard-working farmers and ranchers. Highway 20 and the East Fork of the Russian River ran through Coyote Valley. There was an established farm community including a 4-H Club and a Farm Bureau. I do not remember an actual town of Coyote Valley.

All that changed when the decision was made to flood Coyote Valley. It is now referred to as Coyote Valley Dam, backing up what is now called Lake Mendocino. Ironically, Mendocino only owns a small share of that water. The politics, government intervention, and division of water ownership is a subject for another full and lengthy article.

Being a local Mendocino County resident and very concerned about water, I embarked on an information hunt about Sites. My interest had been ignited as to the comparison of now flooded Coyote Valley and what may be similarly forthcoming to Sites, especially with the passing of the recent water bond in November 2014. Sites appears destined to follow the path of Coyote Valley, soon to be flooded.

I asked a poker playing partner if he could fly me to Sites. I wanted to look at the land before it was flooded. I would pay for the hours on the plane. We met at noon at the Santa Rosa County Airport. By 12:30 we (mostly) had pre-checked airplane, an older Piper Comanche, but highly maintained. Years ago I trained on a Cherokee, a slightly smaller plane. I have several hours as a student but never got my full pilot's license.

We took off and turned towards the Maxwell VOR (pilot talk), just west of Sites. Sunday was beautiful, no wind, and unlimited visibility. Within a few minutes my friend turned to me and announced that the plane was now mine to fly. It had been eight years since I flew, but I took control and in a short time we came over Sites.

It appears much larger than Coyote Valley. I saw individual houses and dirt roads. The valley was a full shade of dark green. There are no woodlands, just beautiful flatland and rolling hills. My pilot friend took back control of the plane and circled the area so I could take some pictures. There is a range of mountains dividing sites from Sacramento Valley. There are two distinct openings in the mountain range to the east where I assume drainage from the Sites area runs into the Sacramento Valley.

Research indicates that the annual rainfall in Maxwell, east of Sites, is 15 inches as compared to inland Mendocino County which is 30 inches. The Government agencies have figured that they can construct a pipe from the Sacramento River during flood stage and pump water to Sites to be released during a time of need, presuming that we will ever see flood stage again.

Back on the ground I researched what is available on Sites. To no surprise, the main article is titled "North of the Delta Offstream Storage Investigation." This project would flood 14,000 acres and store 1.4 million acre-feet of water. By comparison, Lake Mendocino covers 1,922 acres and has a capacity of 110,000 acre-feet of water at flood stage. The Sites project would be roughly seven times larger than Lake Mendocino. I suggest that the name of Lake Mendocino be changed to Beggar Lake. It appears that it is what all of us who rely on the water are now doing: Begging for some of the water our forefathers gave away in the 1950s.

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